” … like those who dream.” (Psalms 126:1)
We have all moments of shattered dreams. My mom was a veteran of WWII and Korea … and “tough as nails”. The first time I saw her cry, however, was when her dream of America was shattered, the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Those who are old enough cannot help but feel the loss of safety and security that swept over this land when we saw the towers fall 16 years ago next week. After witnessing what happened in Charlottesville a few weeks ago, where hundreds gathered with torches shouting, “Jews will not replace us”, the response from so many Jews was a collective shiver. What, many are beginning to wonder, is happening to the dream that America represents?
Last week’s Torah portion was about a lofty dream – pursuing justice. It ends with the words “and you shall do that which is right in the eyes of the Eternal.” (Deuteronomy 21:9). This week’s portion, in contrast, opens by talking about war. It then discusses personal “wars” – how a lovers can have such a split that they must divorce. And immediately after, we read about the stubborn and rebellious child. It warns us to have fair weights, assuming people will seek to cheat one another, and reminds us that what we own is not fully “ours”, but ought to be shared with those in need. How explain the move from the ideals of justice to the hard realities of life?
Perhaps the Torah is reminding us to recognize that there is a difference between dream and reality. A dream is the hope of a glorious, almost perfect future. Reality, by definition, includes disappointments. The willingness to accept that things don’t always go well, that humans can be selfish, cruel and unfair, however, should not lead us to abandon the dream of what could be … what ought to be. Because once you forget the dream, it’s all over.
That is why we need both last week’s Torah portion and this week’s. We can bear life’s uncertainties and its pain when we recall that things can be better. We need to remember this when we become disappointed in our nation or with the State of Israel. America as a country represents noble ideals, the blessing of liberty and equality. Israel is our land of promise. Yet both places disappoint. There is bickering and strife, corruption and inequality. Is it any different in our personal lives? We know that no family is without tension and even the best of friends sometimes go through rough patches. If we use this coming month before Rosh Hashanah, as our traditions say we should, to make a truly honest appraisal of our own lives, it is hard not to be disappointed in our own failures.
We go forward, however, with hope for ourselves, our relationships with our family and friends, through times of prosperity and recession, as lovers of Israel and believers in America at its best, because we know that the tough moments are not all there are. Our failures don’t define us. This week’s devastation in Texas and the Gulf Coast serves as a reminder that life is messy. It’s unfair, tough and too often hard. But it can be good. The kindness we’ve seen of so many people for one another, strangers helping strangers carrying others to safety, donating money, items and time to help those who are suffering, are reminders of the nobility of the human soul.
Our days can be just, tomorrow can be better, we can forgive ourselves and our country for not being perfect … so long as we dream.